When a state’s denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent — a permanence that has been the goal of Israel’s settlement project from its very outset (and that many believe has been achieved) — that state ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population’s ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid or racism. The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizenry cannot hide its changing (or changed) character. A political arrangement that limits democracy to a privileged class and keeps others behind military checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls does not define democracy. It defines its absence.
The claim that Israel is the incarnation and defender of Jewish values is contradicted by its treatment of an Arab population that has now lived for over two generations under Israel’s military subjugation – treatment that Moshe Arens, a former Likud Defense and Foreign Minister, has warned is turning that population into a permanent underclass of “carriers of water and hewers of wood.” It is entirely at odds with Biblical admonitions and Prophetic exhortations warning against injustices committed by the privileged and the powerful against the stranger and the powerless.
Israel’s problem is not the Palestinian or Arab refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state. It is, rather, the increasing difficulty of Jews familiar with Jewish values to recognize it as a Jewish state. Rather than demanding that Palestinians declaim on Israel’s democratic and Jewish identity, or conjuring non-existent threats to Israel’s existence, Netanyahu and his government would be better advised adjusting Israel’s policies toward a people that has lived under its unforgiving military occupation in a way that honors their country’s democratic and Jewish beginnings. That would contribute far more to its “legitimacy” and to its long-range security than its present undemocratic and very un-Jewish course.
Whether it is in response to a purported campaign of de-legitimization against Israel or a more broadly defined “new anti-Semitism”, the ploy that Israel’s defenders employ is invariably the same: it is to deflect criticism of Israeli actions by treating them as attacks on Jewish identity.
It is not what we do; it is who we are — and that we are powerless to change.